Natural La Jolla: Keep your eye out for green sea turtles at the Shores

By Kelly Stewart

Editor’s note: Today the Light welcomes Kelly Stewart, Ph.D., as the author of a new column: Natural La Jolla. She holds a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship
studying sea turtles at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. She is fascinated
by the beauty and diversity of nature in La Jolla and this biweekly column will
highlight some of the natural wonders that may be found along our coastline. Kelly
lives in La Jolla Village.

Sea turtles in San Diego? The International Sea Turtle Society recently held its annual conference in Mission Valley on the biology and conservation of these creatures. More than 1,000 participants representing more than 90 countries gathered to report highlights of their research and conservation projects worldwide, connect with old friends and talk a lot about turtles!

Although it’s not too widely known, we have sea turtles here in San Diego. Southern California represents the northernmost limit for resident East Pacific green turtles, a subpopulation of the pan-tropical green turtle. These hard-shelled air-breathing reptiles, named for their green body fat, have beautiful carapaces (shells), especially when they are younger. They generally eat aquatic vegetation like eelgrass but may consume invertebrates as well.

One population lives in south San Diego Bay near the now-decommissioned South Bay Power Plant in Chula Vista. This annual grouping of about 40 to 90 turtles spends time in the bay foraging on eelgrass and invertebrates, and lounging about — especially during the winter when the water in the bay is warmer than the ocean.

An East Pacific Green Turtle, 'Chelonia mydas,' swims over sandy bottom substrate at La Jolla Shores. Photo: Jeremy W. Smith

Sea turtles make long-distance migrations from nesting beaches to foraging grounds and San Diego’s green turtles are no exception. In the spring, some of the adults head for nesting grounds in Michoacan and the Revillagigedo Islands in Mexico, returning in the fall.

An East Pacific Green Turtle, 'Chelonia mydas,' swims over sandy bottom substrate at La Jolla Shores. Photo: Jeremy W. Smith

Turtles are also often spotted in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve by swimmers and kayakers. I’ve overheard the long-distance swimmers report seeing them along their swim route from La Jolla Shores to the Cove. If you are out in the South Bay area, or near the Cove, watch for turtles surfacing to breathe. You may even be lucky enough to spot these endangered creatures while swimming or snorkeling in La Jolla’s coastal waters.

Contact Kelly at

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Posted by Staff on May 4, 2011. Filed under Columns, Editorial Columns, Featured Story, La Jolla, Natural La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Natural La Jolla: Keep your eye out for green sea turtles at the Shores”

  1. Sandy

    Very informative article – and awesome photos!

  2. Saw one today! It was absolutely amazing… Saw it about 100 meters out from the beach, right at the very edge of the southern part of the main la jolla bay there. Right where the sand on the shore ends. I followed him for probably 10 minutes, it was great! I got a video too, I'll post it on youtube eventually.

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